Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Popcorn-ball design doubles efficiency of dye-sensitized solar cells

A new approach is able to create a dramatic improvement in cheap solar cells now being developed in laboratories.

By using a popcorn-ball design -- tiny kernels clumped into much larger porous spheres -- researchers at the University of Washington are able to manipulate light and more than double the efficiency of converting solar energy to electricity. The findings will be presented today in New Orleans at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

"We think this can lead to a significant breakthrough in dye-sensitized solar cells," said lead author Guozhong Cao, a UW professor of materials science and engineering.

Dye-sensitized solar cells, first popularized in a scientific article in 1991, are more flexible, easier to manufacture and cheaper than existing solar technologies. Researchers have tried various rough surfaces and achieved higher and higher efficiencies. Current lab prototypes can convert just over one tenth of the incoming sun's energy into electricity. This is about half as efficient as the commercial, silicon-based cells used in rooftop panels and calculators.

The UW researchers did not attempt to maximize the overall efficiency of a dye-sensitized solar cell to match or beat these previous records. Instead, they focused on developing new approaches and compared the performance of a homogeneous rough surface with a clumping design. One of the main quandaries in making an efficient solar cell is the size of the grains. Smaller grains have bigger surface area per volume, and thus absorb more rays. But bigger clumps, closer to the wavelength of visible light, cause light to ricochet within the thin light-absorbing surface so it has a higher chance of being absorbed.

"You want to have a larger surface area by making the grains smaller," Cao said. "But if you let the light bounce back and forth several times, then you have more chances of capturing the energy."

Other researchers have tried mixing larger grains in with the small particles to scatter the light, but have little success in boosting efficiency. The UW group instead made only very tiny grains, about 15 nanometers across. (Lining up 3,500 grains end to end would equal the width of a human hair.) Then they clumped these into larger agglomerations, about 300 nanometers across. The larger balls scatter incoming rays and force light to travel a longer distance within the solar cell. The balls' complex internal structure, meanwhile, creates a surface area of about 1,000 square feet for each gram of material. This internal surface is coated with a dye that captures the light.

The researchers expected some improvement in the performance but what they saw exceeded their hopes.

"We did not expect the doubling," Cao said. "It was a happy surprise."

The overall efficiency was 2.4 percent using only small particles, which is the highest efficiency achieved for this material. With the popcorn-ball design, results presented today at the conference show an efficiency of 6.2 percent, more than double the previous performance.

"The most significant finding is the amount of increase using this unique approach," Cao said.

The experiments were performed using zinc oxide, which is less stable chemically than the more commonly used titanium oxide but easier to work with.

"We first wanted to prove the concept in an easier material. Now we are working on transferring this concept to titanium oxide," Cao said. Titanium oxide based dye-sensitized solar cells are now at 11 percent maximum efficiency. Cao hopes his strategy could push dye-sensitized solar cells' efficiency significantly over that threshold.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, Washington Technology Center and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Co-authors are postdoctoral researcher Qifeng Zhang, research associate Tammy Chou and graduate student Bryan Russo, all in the UW's department of materials science and engineering and Samson Jenekhe, a UW professor of chemical engineering.

Hannah Hickey | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging
25.10.2016 | Colorado State University

nachricht Did you know that infrared heating is an essential part of automotive manufacture?
25.10.2016 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>